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Justin Gaethje: More grappling, wrestling experience might have helped Conor McGregor against Floyd Mayweather


LOS ANGELES — Justin Gaethje thinks Conor McGregor did very well against Floyd Mayweather in his professional boxing debut. McGregor, Gaethje said, even went two rounds longer than he expected with the all-time boxing great, falling by TKO in the 10th.

It was the cardio that got to McGregor in the end, the transition from a 25-minute MMA title fight to a 12-round boxing bout. Gaethje said at a media lunch Wednesday that embracing the grind of wrestling and grappling in MMA could have went a long way toward helping McGregor, known as a striker, fight through the exhaustion.

“The reason he can’t fight through when he gets super tired is he’s never grappled,” said Gaethje, who was at the lunch promoting The Ultimate Fighter 26. “You have to learn how to fight through when it sucks and it’s really hard. You have to be in that position over and over and over, to be able to perform in that mindset. The fact that he’s never wrestled or grappled, it doesn’t help when he gets super tired and starts questioning himself.”

McGregor did very well over the first four rounds. One judge had him winning the first three, while the other two had him winning the first. Gaethje said that’s how he expected it to play out and McGregor really had no choice but to let loose early, because that was his best shot at winning.

“If you look at the fight, I would say his only chance is to knock him out in the first three or four rounds,” Gaethje said. “And so if he goes out and paces himself, then he takes away the chance of knocking him out in the early rounds. But what he really would be doing is taking away every chance from himself — because that was his only chance. But no matter what, it was gonna get to the 8th round and he was gonna be screwed. So you might as well try to knock him out in the first four rounds. But that becomes detrimental later in the fight.

“It was like a Catch-22 with him. He was there to make money and he did a great job in doing that.”

Gaethje said McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, did “well” overall and showed he and MMA are not schlubs, like some boxing pundits portrayed in the lead up to the fight.

“He wasn’t a regular guy coming in off the street, even though he had an 0-0 record,” Gaethje said. “He wasn’t just somebody coming off the street to fight Floyd Mayweather. He was a world-class athlete coming in and that’s what he proved. He wasn’t gonna go in there and get embarrassed. I didn’t think so. He’s a competitor. I figured he would stay in good position, try to land hard punches, but probably overextend himself. Fourth, fifth round, it was gonna get bad. Just tired, you can’t perform like that.”

Gaethje said the sport of MMA might have gotten a slight black eye had McGregor just gotten steamrolled by Mayweather. But, in the end, Gaethje believes MMA holds the trump card over boxing regardless of this result.

“If he goes in there and gets knocked out, yeah MMA takes a hit,” Gaethje said. “But it’s not gonna hurt us. Because at the end of the day, all we have to say is, ‘Let’s have a real fight.’ In a real fight, in the street, when it comes to life and death, an MMA fighter will win 90 percent of the time against just a boxer. I’m content and comfortable with that.”

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